If I was...preparing to go to university

By Alan Townsend
The vice-president for sales readiness and business operations at Monster, Europe, the recruitment website, puts himself in the position of a new student:
If I was considering going to university, or in the early stages of my university career, I suspect I would be feeling quite overwhelmed.The job market for new graduates has been challenging, to say the least, and is likely to remain highly competitive for the foreseeable future. I would therefore be feeling the pressure to choose the right university, the right course and the right field to give me the best
chance of landing a job. Add in the increasing cost of education, and the fact that there are more subjects to study than ever before, and I would feel added pressure to make sure I was making the very best investment of the time and money that higher education requires. If I could give myself only one piece of advice, it might be this: university is just one step towards a long working life, not the end of the road if I get it wrong. While choices at this stage can significantly influence the direction of your life, it’s important to retain a degree of perspective. Some young people feel a calling and know exactly what they want to do for a living and the education needed to get there – I have friends in the medical professional, for example, who report always having had a desire to get into healthcare. However, the vast majority – me included – find our way as we go along, through education and our professional lives, too. Today, it is common for people to hold several jobs during their working lives and it is likely they will switch careers at least once. So university students and their parents should not feel the choices they make now are irrevocable. If I was going into higher education now, I would choose a field of study I genuinely love, knowing it would make me far more engaged and enable me to get more out of it.
I would also take into account the recession, which has led many employers to cut their middle management layers, leaving them operating at absolute capacity. They need new hires – even at the entry level – to start work with a minimal learning curve, as many employers lack the resources to train people. If I was thinking about university now, I would therefore be looking to gain as much relevant work experience as possible. I would be looking to take advantage of university internship programmes, as work placements give first-hand experience that make a CV jump out from the pack.
Equally as important, these experiences help students to home in on the type of work that suits them, in terms of sector and the kind of working environment they prefer. I would also have an open mind and think about where opportunities lie; I would look where there is real demand for talent – in sectors
such as engineering, sciences and IT, where exciting jobs are available, as well as monetary rewards.
An emerging sector such as green energy would attract my attention: it is poised for growth, and offers the chance to improve quality of life for future generations. The possibilities in engineering would appeal, too – perhaps with a Formula One racing team that advertised recently for engineers to work at the leading-edge of design and physics. I would also remember that just because a particular career might seem old-fashioned or boring – perhaps accounting, another field in which we see continued demand for talent – it does not mean a boring life. Music companies have advertised accounting roles, for example, so if I had a head for maths and a love of music, I could have the best of both worlds. Careers and lives rarely play out the way we plan. Unexpected opportunities, setbacks and ever-changing circumstances bring surprises and challenges. But I would hope that giving a little forethought to my passions and aptitudes – coupled with an open mind and a willingness to gain work experience – would stand me in good stead.